Ugali is deceptively simple… just ground millet and water, soaked and cooked into a thick porridge, much like polenta. I had no idea this humblest of dishes would lead me on a long, meandering quest to resolve a case of blurred identity between Nigerian ogi, and East African uji and ugali. It’s been a fun, interesting, and eye-opening journey.
Having clarified the matter, I was excited to finally enjoy a batch of ugali alongside a bowl of rich Maharage ya Nazi. Thanks to Miriam Kinunda at Taste of Tanzania for sharing this simple and amazing bean stew. I ended up straying some from the original recipe, but it somehow ended up tasty anyhow.
The ugali, however, turned out a bit disappointing, especially after so much buildup ever since I first spotted a recipe for millet porridge in Sandor Katz’ wild fermentation. I’ve always had a thing for mush. Something about the soft texture and subtle taste just hits the spot. This time though, the bitter aftertaste somewhat spoiled the mood. The millet has been soaking on the counter for a few days now… I wonder if, for some reason, it turns bitter before it turns sour as it ferments, or if millet flour is naturally slightly bitter, or if it’s reacting in some way with the pot it is soaking in.
UPDATE (1/25/16): Cooked the remaining millet, which had now been fermenting on the counter six days and was mostly liquid, into uji. SO good! It was delightfully thick, creamy, and warming to sip with breakfast. The bitterness had almost entirely disappeared (either because of the extended fermentation time or because I transferred it into a plastic container to ferment). To my surprise, the texture and taste reminded me a great deal of maicena con maracuya, a cornstarch and passion fruit beverage my Ecuadorian host family often enjoyed for breakfast or dinner. I will definitely be making this again soon!
2 cups millet
4 cups water
Grind the millet into flour. A Vitamix works well for this. Alternately, you may be able to find already ground millet flour. From here, there are two options.
The quick, simple, and more traditional route is to bring the four cups of water to a boil, then slowly add in the millet, stirring constantly. To help avoid lumps, you might make a slurry of millet and 2 cups of the water, and stir gradually into two cups of boiling water. Cook over medium heat for several minutes, stirring constantly, until very thick. It will thicken further as it cools.
Alternately, you can leave to soak in the water at room temperature for at least 24 hours, or up to one week. (In my experience, even after three days it hadn’t soured, perhaps in part due to colder weather, but after six it was wonderful. Be sure to use a non-reactive vessel of glass or plastic.) This is the process by which uji, a fermented breakfast porridge, is made. Made thicker, it serves as ugali alongside stews. Bring water to a boil — 1 1/2 cups for ugali, 3 for uji. Stir the fermented slurry until well combined, then pour 2 cups of the mixture into the pot of boiling water, stirring constantly. Cook for several minutes, until it reaches the desired consistency. The rest can be cooked later in the week. Simply leave the remaining slurry on the counter to grow tarter, or refrigerate until you are ready to use it.
Ugali can be formed into a single large ball in a large bowl, or smaller balls on each plate. Or, if you are lazy and ravenous like me, just scooped into a bowl and topped with stew to gobble by the spoonful.
Maharage ya Nazi (Swahili Beans)
A few tablespoons oil (I used coconut)
A tablespoon or so grated ginger
1 cup coconut milk
About 3 cups cooked red or kidney beans (I used adzuki)
1/2 teaspoon salt
A tablespoon or two minced cilantro (I should probably have looked more closely at the recipe. I probably used at least a quarter cup, no wonder it dominated the dish. Delicious, though!)
Saute onion in oil until soft, then add ginger and cook for a minute more. Stir in the coconut milk, then add the beans, salt, and cilantro. Let simmer until warmed through and flavors have mellowed, at least 5-10 minutes. The liquid should be at the same level as the beans — add more water or coconut milk if necessary. Yum!